There's an old manuscript.
It sits in a file folder marked In Progress though the folder has not been touched in years. This is not progress, or perhaps it is, the writer has ignored the folder all these years. Maybe it is the writer who is in progress. Hopefully.
She has written new manuscripts, some of which are also in folders. Some of the folders are marked with story titles, some are unmarked or doodled on. She likes to draw geometric doodads, they meander across things and turn back on themselves. Flowers too. She draws flowers with pointy petals and within the petals are the geometric designs. There are folders with this—flowers and triangles and zigzag lines.
She has written new manuscripts and some of these manuscripts are not in folders. They are on the floor or they are in the recycling box or they are on the old futon mattress picking up dog hairs. Some of the manuscripts are scrap paper. Those have doodles on them.
But there is this one manuscript in the In Progress folder. A good story. Poorly written, or maybe well-written, but written ten years ago and the writer is ten years older and more critical.
Here is the first line:There was the sound of laughter, flirtation, the clink of bottles on banisters, and then Earl Bisquitwater walked out on stage, saxophone held high, and he pumped it up in the air, like a cheerleader with a pompom, and the crowd, maybe fifty people, started moving toward him.
The writer realizes her style has not changed much.
Here is the last line: Images flashed in quick succession: the wild young dancer out on the town, eating at some late night sub shop, Earl, sitting in a van, traveling through the dark night, May, sleeping, waiting for her husband to come home, the bartenders wiping tables and bagging bottles, and . . .
Oh. The last line is horrible. It is one of those long, meandering sentences she is guilty of. The writer realizes this is not the original last line. The manuscript before her—with its dogeared corners and the half-moon coffee stain—is a newer one, not the first or second draft of the story. She wonders what happened to the earlier draft. Where the last scene is Earl and the young dancer giving the peace sign. That version is not in the In Progress folder.
She skims the story quickly. Yes this version has a new point of view, an audience member, a young woman; it is not the impersonal third person, it is not the story of Earl, but the story of the young woman watching Earl.
It is closer to the truth, this newer version. It is maybe not even ten years old. Maybe six or seven.
The story is problematic. Maybe not one to be worked on. Maybe one to be put back into the In Progress folder, put back in the filing cabinet. Maybe the story behind the story is better.
Here's the story behind the story.
The writer went to a bar with her boyfriend. She was on acid, and this is mentioned because it was crucial to the later writing of the story. On acid, there is nothing mundane. Or the mundane is fascinating in its mundane-ness. And so the writer was in a bar, which was really a gutted old theatre, no seats, just a stage for musicians and two bars along the walls and sticky sloping floors. And this is where the writer saw Earl, whose name is not really Earl, but the writer will not tell the real name, because the writer worries about things, and she doesn't wish to worry about the real Earl knowing that she has supposed or imagined his life.
Because this is what she has done. This is what "Vibe" is about. A writer supposing a musician's life and the writer writing about a woman wondering about the musician. Well, in the later draft, which is now in front of her, this is what she did. In the earlier draft, there was no woman in the audience wondering about Earl. There was just Earl and the writer writing about Earl. But that draft, it seems, is gone.
But the story behind the story. The writer was on acid and so nothing was mundane and some things were funny and some were scary but the particulars are so many years old that it is hard to even know anything. But the writer does know that Earl came out on stage and he had an orchestra, or a very large band with him, and the music they played was jazz, Coltrane and Davis and Coleman all fused together, and the writer had not heard this sort of thing before, and she was shocked, profoundly shocked that the noise became music.
But the story is not about the music. It is about the man. Earl. Because the man, who played saxophone and flute and maybe even a trumpet, was the perfect character, with his hoots and hollers and his hands waving and flapping and his strutting across the stage and his bird calls and whistles and then those moments when he played and the sound just got loud and wicked and delirious.
This is what the writer wrote: He wiped his brow with the handkerchief he had in the breast pocket of his baggy maroon suit, and then he shouted "Kick it!" and the drums began, the brass, the sounds forcing their way into the crowd.
The writer had thought, this man has a story. I can tell the story.
And so she went home and wrote about Earl and his dying wife and how this was his last show, here in the tiny bar with the crazy guy dancing in front and the young woman who stood at the back of the bar and watched it all.
And then here is what happened outside the story. Ten years later, the writer is in a music store, and she sees a CD by Earl, whose real name is not Earl. He is still playing. He is making music and CD's and a photo of his face is there on the back cover, and his saxophone is there too, and not his wife, because maybe she did die, or maybe she's just not around, or maybe she took the picture, or maybe he doesn't even have a wife named May who had asked him to stop playing, stop gigging and come home. And all this speculation makes the writer buy the CD, and she takes it home and puts it on the stereo, and there is something about it that makes her remember, but not really as much as she'd like; and she wonders what happened to the crazy dancer, what happened to the girl's boyfriend. She knows what happened to the girl. And she knows that most of the time, our lives are not what we dream them up to be.
And the writer looks at the old manuscript and realizes she still does not know what to do with the story. Some stories are like that. They are hard to tell.